Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Triumph Love

My bedroom as a child was not very large. A twin bed. A great draftsman's desk my Mom found somewhere. A Peter Max poster. Some Packer paraphenalia. Piles of books. Ian Fleming, of course. Comics. Navy World War II stories. Detective yarns. And one picture of a car. Not just any car. My first car. I was certain of it. A Triumph Spitfire MkIV. Just like this one.

This car resonated with my James Bond honed sensibilities. Which became even more sharp during the long winters. I sent away for a British Leyland brochure and this red Spitfire was on the cover. It was love at first sight. I used to sit at my desk at night, scribbling little stories and staring at MY car. Thinking of the incredible people I would meet and the places I would go while driving it. Or the impact it would make upon the girls in attendance at an unknown future High School. I didn't know anyone that owned a red car. As far as I could tell, there wasn't a convertible in the entire state. The raw exotic power of the Spitfire was intoxicating. At least to me. Back in those dark, snowy nights. I used to imagine keeping a small, expensive, leather bag in the trunk containing just a few travel essentials. To facilitate immediate adventure when the urge struck. Or for immediate escape plans. To places like this...

No doubt just down the lane from a Chateau of some sort.

Alas, it has now been established without question that a large part of romance is not knowing everything there is to know. Like the fact that some pretty girls are really no fun at all. And the fact that some pretty cars do not run very long. Or very well. My Dad had a Jaguar that just would not start during the winter. Ever. But he kept it for a couple of winters just the same. Perhaps because of the burl walnut tables fitted into the back of the front seats. I never did get my Spitfire. I have never even seen one in person. But sometimes I will pull out that old brochure and it still makes me smile. And I get that same old romantic "drive off for the weekend and see where you end up" feeling.

For my birthday a couple of years ago, I told my wife I wanted a particular little Italian leather travel bag. When I unwrapped it, she said "whatever do you want THAT for"? "Why, for the trunk of my car of course.." was my reply.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Fathers' Day Reverie

My earliest memory involves the snow. And my Dad. Shortly after I discovered the miracle of walking, I was outside trying to follow my Dad around in several feet of new powder. Struggling to step into the footprints he was making in front of me. Suddenly, I missed a step and fell into the formless snow where I sunk over my head and floundered. The snow began to close over me. Panicked, I screamed for help and two then-giant arms immediately snatched me from my predicament. My Dad. Superhero.

Me floundering. Dad there to help. A scene that would repeat itself every so often.

A few years ago, I had the notion that I would write a booklet of memories for my Dad. Including this first one. He just loved it. Three years later he was gone. My Epic tip today is twofold. Listen to your "notions" and act on them. Second, if you are lucky like me and had great parents, tell them. You don't have to write it. Just tell it. Don't leave it up to intuition or nonverbal communication. Even if you would rather poke yourself in the eye than speak of how much they mean to you. If I, a product of noncommunicative Norwegian culture, could do it, so can you. The benefit to them will be immediate. The benefit to you will come a while later, when you are the one in the lead, making the footprints.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My First Story Rejected By "Six Sentences"

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.

I love the micro-fiction web site/literary journal Six Sentences. The idea of it is to write a story [no poems allowed] in only six sentences. Perfect for late-night, bar napkin authors like me. I am always thrilled at the creativity I find published there. My first submission to 6S was rejected but I give it to you today just because I like it. I hope you will too.

Dinner Time

Staring out the window, on tiptoes, I see you walk by wearing a black pleated skirt and a white blouse with dots. You are prettier now than thirty years ago. When we kissed once during that last, perfect, Autumn afternoon. Before everything became...complicated. A sound distracts me as they unlock the door and bring in exactly what I requested for dinner. When I look back to the window, the shadows are longer and you are lost to view.

This makes my batting average for submissions to literary journals a whopping 0.00. None for five. I get a lot of enjoyment out of scribbling on those bar napkins though. It keeps me from other, less wholesome, pursuits. Taken in an Epic light, then, the writing and also the rejections are a positive and even a healthy thing. And they help me to "lerne" and hone the craft.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Father's Day Come Early: A Family In Full

I jot this note as I am once again moving through the Atlanta airport. Where I just saw the most astounding and lovely thing. A young family, parents perhaps in their mid-thirties, mom in an airline wheelchair for some reason, in a nice summer dress. What really caught my eye, however, was the father and his two pre-teen sons. Dressed in suits. With ties. Shined shoes. Considering the place and the time of day, happy faces. It was all I could do to keep from running up and hugging them all.

I admire this family tremendously. I wish I knew them. I do not know what their travel occasion might have been, but they looked as if going on a trip, together, today, in this hustle and bustle, made up the greatest day of their lives. Seeing them certainly made my day. As I was soon to be headed 180 degrees away from my family at a high rate of speed. It was a Father's Day present, come two weeks early.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Epic Bookshelf: The Song is You

A golf pro told me one time that when he saw Sam Snead play he thought that if he just worked hard enough he could play like that. When he saw Ben Hogan play he realized that there was no way he could ever be that good.

I love to write and I love to read. That is not always a good combination. Sometimes, I read a good writer like the fellow that wrote "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and I think "man, if I am lucky and I work hard enough...". Other times, I come across an author like Arthur Phillips and I realize there is no way I can ever write that well.

Phillips' first novel, Prague, was a very good play on social manners among the young diplomatic set in Budapest. What would probably be referred to in publishing circles as a "strong first effort". I would refer you to a novelist of the stature of Pat Conroy, who said that this book defined a whole generation in the manner in which Hemingway accomplished that task in The Sun Also Rises. It must be hard to be placed in the same sentence with Hemingway and still live up to the comparison. I wouldn't know. Phillips' work in Prague does that very well indeed.

In Prague, young American expats and junior diplomatic corps personnel try to sort out the meaning of their newly independent lives. Newly independent and lacking any form of horrific Cold or hot war experience to force a definition upon them. In a fascinating and romantic setting where war experiences of all temperatures seem to define almost everything. It is no wonder then that Conroy made the comparison with The Sun Also Rises in terms of plot. Read Prague for yourself and you will also see right away why Conroy connects the book to The Sun Also Rises in terms of the calibre of its writing. Much more than "a strong first effort".

Phillips seems very interested in love. The misplaced sort. The vanquished sort. And the unrequited sort. And his characters are so marvelously crafted for us that we are immediately in tune with just what they think and do. Or rather what the appear to think and do. For Phillips' plotting is so well done that it is the reader's psyche and life that defines them as the book is read. Each of these books is akin to a literary house of mirrors. Perhaps literary Rohrshak is a better description. In any event, these stories project image after image to the reader which can all be interpreted in equally reasonable, yet equally contrary fashions. That is what makes reading a Phillips novel so completely engrossing.

Consider Phillips' second book, The Egyptologist.

This incredible story deals with a mysterious young man of the immediate post World War One era who is out to discover the tomb of a little known [and perhaps fictional] Pharaoh, bankrolled by his wealthy putative father-in-law. As an exciting historical novel of archaeological exploration unfolds, you begin to wonder. Is the explorer a genius? A grifter? Merely self-deluded? Or someone so deeply in love with Egyptology that he will do anything to become part of the Valley of the Kings and assume his place among the classic explorers of the region? In the event, he manages to convince all around him, including himself, that not only does the shadowy Pharaoh exist but that his tomb is just waiting to be discovered--full of riches. Whether the Egyptologist's love will be fulfilled or unrequited is the main mystery the book unfolds before you. Suffice to say, he accomplishes his dream of becoming part of Egypt. Stephen King said of this book that it was "tragic, pathetic, blackly funny...and with a strange, growing undercurrent of horror. You have never read a novel like it." This from a man who certainly ought to know. The next time any of you run into Mr. King, please tell him I fully agree.

Phillips' next effort was a Victorian drama, Angelica.

This engrossing story has marvelous characters that are akin to mirror balls spinning on strings. With the reader supplying the light and interpreting the multiple reflections they create. The physician father can be fairly viewed as a demon, a hard working and loving cold fish, a victim of spousal abuse, or any number of other things. The beautiful mother, a former shop girl, can be fairly viewed as an insane wife-from-Hell, a broken victim of spousal abuse, a classic plotting gold digger, or any number of other things. Depending completely upon the reader you interview, this book is either a Victorian family drama, a ghost story, a murder mystery, or a classic tragedy. Or all of the above. You tell me. I just loved the book.

Which brings me to Phillips' latest offering, The Song Is You. Once again, we find a main character so interesting and well drawn that you find yourself peering into the end of a literary kaleidoscope, fascinated with the changing images you find inside. Having just turned fifty, I can appreciate the notion of the mid-life crisis even if I haven't experienced one. Yet. The fellow who is the subject of The Song Is You is in a Category Five Mid-Life Crisis. He has had a tremendous personal tragedy. Lost a marriage. Suffers the presence of a loving but very odd older brother. About the only things going right for this man are his career and his Ipod. On which he stores a fantastic and vast music collection, including a soon-to-be-discovered young Irish woman that he comes across singing in a neighborhood New York bar. After this discovery, the gent embarks upon what could be fairly described as an aching, quasi-mutual love affair with an eclectic, talented, and beautiful woman half his age. Or, he engages on what could be fairly described as an obsessional stalking foray taking him across the globe and back again as he pursues what he, in a deluded fantasy, perceives as the love of his life. In other words, The Song Is You is another masterful piece of storycraft from the pen of Arthur Phillips. What is the "true" interpretation of the story? You twist the cylinder of this fine story and tell me what images you perceive. Needess to say, I highly recommend all of Arthur Phillips' books for your enjoyment this summer.

I would really like to meet Mr. Phillips some time. I do not know exactly what I would say to him, if anything. But I suspect we have some common ground. He knows a lot about music, that is clear. He is from Minnesota. And his web site says that on June 22 he will be at a place in New Hampshire for "readings, signings, music and martinis". Sounds like my kind of guy...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hats for Sale!

Men's hat update!! I was in New York a few days ago and as I was walking between enjoyable appointments I saw no less than THREE sidewalk vendors selling hats for men! Not ball caps. REAL hats! Modest quality but very cheap prices. $10 or less per hat.

For those of us who consider the wares displayed by big-city sidewalk vendors to be important indicators of cultural shifts, the immense significance of this development cannot be ignored. Gone are the rank Rolex watches. Along with bogus Burberry, ersatz Ed Hardy, faux Fendi and pseudo Prada!! Dressy hats for men are now officially endorsed and they...are...BACK.
My experience has been that once a trend hits the sidewalks of New York, other major and regional cities are not far behind. Unless you live where I live. In which case I expect the hat wave to crest on the sartorial shores in about two years. But I am ready and more than willing when it gets here. Until then it will be up to the rest of you to carry the flag. For yourself. Or for your Epic man.

Grab your coat, and get your hat
Leave your worry on the doorstep.
Just direct your feet,
To the sunny side of the street.
--Dorothy Fields, "The Sunny Side of the Street"